The Nordonia Hills City School District holds the safety of our students as our top priority.
As we continue to learn about the horrific act of violence that took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, we are called to reflect upon our safety practices and procedures in the Nordonia Schools.
The Nordonia Safety & Crisis Team has developed comprehensive emergency operation plans for the district as a whole and for each building. The district administrators, counselors, psychologists, local safety forces, and first responders comprise the safety and crisis team, which meets on a quarterly basis. Matt Strickland, director of business, is the chief safety officer for the school district. The team continuously revises the plans to stay current with best practices, and files them with the Ohio Department of Education to prepare for events that we pray will never happen.
The plans cover emergency operations for many possible scenarios including natural disasters, severe weather, fire, bomb threats, active shooter, biological hazards and chemical accidents. Over the years, we have made significant changes and developments to our plans, which should be in constant evolution in any school district.
All Nordonia staff members receive training annually on ALICE, or Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuation. ALICE is a concept that provides response options to persons who suddenly find themselves in an active shooter or intruder event. Created by a former Texas police officer, who recognized that traditional lockdown procedures were not helping people survive, ALICE builds on shelter-in-place procedures by adding alternative actions that will increase survivability during such attacks.
Many components of our safety plan have been put into place over the last several years. Some of those include: camera system upgrades, linking cameras to the police department, installation of office radio systems with panic buttons that immediately contact all Summit County safety forces, phone system modifications and training to enable any staff member to announce a lockdown for the building from any classroom or office phone.
The district also has door barricade devices on every classroom door, protective film on specific glass entrances and outside windows, active shooter and other emergency scenario training, and other protocols not shared publicly to protect the district in the event of an actual crisis.
The age of our school facilities creates some challenges. For example, though we have cameras and buzzer systems to allow visitors into our schools, our main entrances for visitors open into the schools’ corridors instead of being routed into an office. Nonetheless, the office staff is trained to ensure all visitors report directly to the office.
We receive wonderful support from our local first responders. Chief Jon Golden of the Macedonia Police Department currently serves as a school resource officer at Nordonia High School. Golden also spends time at Ledgeview Elementary. Sagamore and Northfield have SROs for Lee Eaton and Rushwood, though not full time. However, they spend ample time in the buildings and are often present during arrival and dismissal. Northfield and the middle school are under the jurisdiction of the Summit County Sheriff.
The Uvalde, Texas, tragedy has prompted many discussions on national, state, and local levels regarding how to best keep our students safe in schools. Many of these discussions and suggestions warrant additional exploration and input.
I recently met with our administrative team to review safety procedures, and our practices, drills, and equipment are much of the focus right now. However, we cannot and should not talk about student safety without including the importance of mental wellness and meaningful relationships. The single best way to prevent tragedies is to create a culture of love, caring, and trust within our schools and community. It is our responsibility and goal to treat each student as if he or she were our own. This means helping our students develop character traits that emphasize empathy and inclusiveness and develop trusting relationships with students so they feel comfortable talking with an adult when they have concerns for themselves or others.
This is not the soft side of school safety. It is the essential side of school safety, and the actions we take as a community and school district must include the steps we are taking to support our students mentally and to know each child.
We are fortunate in this school district to have many organizations and individuals who care deeply, not only for the education we provide our students but also for each student’s safety. It is through continued community engagement that we will work together to teach, grow, and protect our students.
As always, thanks for supporting the Nordonia Schools, have a great month, and remember to follow me on Twitter @JoeSuperintend1. ∞